Pramod De Silva, from Daily News, 19 May 2017, where the title is “They still live on” … Note Queries at the end from Editor, Thuppahi
A soldier never really dies. He lives on in our hearts. A soldier’s mission never ends, not even in death. One of my favourite war anecdotes has a 10-year-old boy asking a World War II veteran “how does it feel to be a hero?”. His reply: “Oh, son, I am not a hero. We buried all the heroes, I am just a survivor”. No surviving soldier can ever forget his or her comrades in arms who perhaps died right next to them. Their devotion to friends and colleagues who made the Supreme Sacrifice is simply indescribable. Yet, soldiers fall in every battle. Others make sure that their sacrifice is not in vain. They charge ahead and win the battle. They do not seek glory, nor do they seek fame.
Eight years ago, our own valiant sons of the soil defeated the enemy on the battlefield. The enemy was, in the words of the FBI, the most ruthless terrorist group in the world, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. It was a hard-won victory.
As a nation, we can never forget those who sacrificed the prime of their youth and of course, their lives, for liberating the Nation from terrorism. Yes, we do have memorials for them, but the best memorial they can have is our heart. They will live on in our hearts, never to be forgotten. Apart from those who died in combat, there are those who are still missing. There are those who lost their eyes, limbs and other organs. We have to be grateful to them till the end of time.
Note that the smoke-blackened background in mid-May – circa-14/15th May –seen in two of the illustrations here is the outcome of the LTTE’ decision to blow up its munitions and hardware after they decided that their stand was a gonna and after the leaders decided to try and make a break for the Mullaitivu jungles (info from Kanchan Prasad and Murali Reddy who were monitoring events from GS forward HQ)
Peace and reconciliation
In the end, their efforts will be successful only if we have permanent peace. This cannot necessarily come from a triumphant attitude. We must cast aside the war mentality and embrace peace and reconciliation. The enemy combatants were our own brothers and sisters who were misguided by a megalomaniac and ruthless leader into carrying out various acts of terror in the name of “liberation”.
This is indeed why the State has rehabilitated thousands of former Tiger combatants and turned them into useful citizens. I read a heartwarming story in a recent issue of the Daily News, where a group of female soldiers had visited several former women LTTE combatants after the Sinhala sand Hindu New Year to inquire into their well-being. There was also another story of a soldier marrying a former LTTE woman cadre. If the combatants themselves can forget the past and become firm friends and even partners for life, why cannot we do the same?
They say that the past is a different country. Those does not mean that we should forget the past, but rather that we should live in the present and embrace the future. It is essential that we come to terms with what happened in the conflict. Even more important, we should examine how we got to the battlefield in the first place, pitting brother against brother. We, or rather our politicians, made a series of serious mistakes that led to this situation. We have to learn from such experiences so that a conflict may never ever arise again in or country.
This is part of the healing and reconciliation process. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) recommended a series of steps that should be taken to foster harmony among the various communities. This Government has followed up with an Office of Missing Persons (OMP) and a plan to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) possibly on the lines of the one in South Africa but with local ideas and inputs.
But the biggest initiative is formulating an all-new Constitution that takes into account the changing post-conflict needs and aspirations. The people will get an opportunity to give their verdict on this exercise through a referendum. The final aim of the new Constitution should be enabling an environment to create a truly Sri Lankan identity. Even in official forms and documents, we are still asked what our race (ethnicity) is. If you go to a Police station to lodge a complaint, they will ask what your religion is. Most people will not hesitate to ask you whether you are Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim or Burgher. Clearly, we have not learned any hard lessons even after a 30-year war that tore us apart.
An Indian will not identify himself or herself as Hindu, Muslim or Sikh. A Singaporean will not call himself or herself Chinese, Malay, Tamil or Eurasian. Regardless of your ethnic background, you are an Indian or a Singaporean as the case may be. Likewise, a day will dawn when we will call ourselves Sri Lankans without a second’s hesitation. This does not mean that traditions and languages of each ethnic community should fade away. On the other hand, those traditions will be reinforced if all other communities understand and appreciate them. Today, all schoolchildren are learning Sinhala and Tamil, so eventually everyone in the island will be able to talk and understand both languages.
We have a generation that knows nothing but war. However, having gone through and suffered from the horrors of conflict, they will not want to be part of it again.
Then we have a generation born just before and after the conclusion of hostilities who will know nothing about the brutality of strife. It is these two generations that we must protect and veer away from any thoughts of conflict. Together, these two generations have the power to take Sri Lanka to greater heights sans any thoughts of animosity against one another. As they say, to err is human but to forgive is divine.
Even as we march towards peace and prosperity, the very people who made it all possible should not be forgotten. The role of the Armed Forces will evolve over time in peacetime commensurate with regional and global challenges. For example, the Forces, especially the Navy, has been doing a remarkable job to nab narcotics traffickers on the high seas. It was the Army which did most of the rescue operations in the recent Meethotamulla tragedy. The Sri Lanka Air Force took the lead in dousing a fire aboard one of the biggest container vessels in the world recently. They will continue to defend the Motherland whilst expanding their role in accordance with local and international challenges. International cooperation among Security Forces and intelligence agencies has become vital in the face of increased human trafficking and human smuggling, drug trafficking, piracy, international terrorism and even climate change. These need truly global responses.
Today, we can think of a peaceful tomorrow because thousands of Forces personnel laid down their lives to secure a brighter future for their fellow countrymen and women. On this day, and every day, they deserve our honour and gratitude. As I said at the beginning of this article, they still live on. Mary Elizabeth Frye captured this very feeling in her mesmerizing poem which can be regarded as a tribute to all who have perished in the line of duty.
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glints on snow
I am the sunlight on ripened grain
I am the gentle autumn rain
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight
I am the soft stars that shine at night
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
A MAJOR QUERY: ” Today, all schoolchildren are learning Sinhala and Tamil, so eventually everyone in the island will be able to talk and understand both languages.” = Really? Is this claim valid” or is it rose-tinted and utopian?
A FURTHER QUERY: Is Pramod de Silva’s Commemoration not rather one-sided and one-eyed, albeit well-meant? See “Poles Apart on May 19th: Tamil and Sinhala Voices of Power,” at https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2017/05/19/poles-apart-on-may-19th-tamil-and-sinhala-voices-of-power/#more-25546
- Shanmugarajah, V. 2014 “Dr. Veerakanthipillai Shanmugarajah’s Affidavit Description of Conditions in the Vanni Pocket in Refutation of Channel Four,” 5 January 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/01/05/drveerakanthipillai-shanmugarajahs-affidavit-description-of-conditionsin-the-vanni-pocket-in-refutation-of-channel-four/
- Roberts, Michael 2014 “Cartographic & Photographic Illustrations in support of the Memorandum Analysing the War in Sri Lanka and Its Propaganda Debates,” 18 November 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/cartographic-photographic-illustrations-in-support-of-the-memorandum-analysing-the-war-in-sri-lanka-and-propaganda-debates/
- UTHR 2009 Let Them Speak: Truth about Sri Lanka’s Victims of War. Special Report No. 34, http://www.uthr.org/SpecialReports/Special%20rep34/Uthr-sp.rp34.htm.
- Roberts, M. 2013 “Pictorial Illustrations of the Mass Exodus from the Last Redoubt, 20-22 April and mid-May 2009: Appendix V for “BBC Blind”, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/exodus-from-the-last-redoubt-late-april-mid-may-2009-appendix-v-for-bbc-blind
- Roberts, M. 2014 Tamil Person and State. Essays, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publishers.
- Roberts, M. 2014 Tamil Person and State. Pictorial, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publishers.